Monday, April 25, 2005

50 years of publishing

The Hindu : Metro Plus Chennai / Madras Miscellany : Vanathi Pathippakam celebrated its Golden Jubilee: "When Vanathi Pathippakam celebrated its Golden Jubilee recently, it was a climactic moment in the life story of Y. Thirunavukkarasu Chettiar who is today better known as Vanathi Chettiar, the leading Tamil publisher. As the chief guest on the occasion, Justice M. Karpagavinayagam, said, "We were both born in August, we both are from Devakottai, we both went to the same school there — and we both failed in the SSLC. But whereas I struggled on with my studies and became a lawyer, my elder brother by 20 years left for Madras with almost nothing in his pocket and became a success story in the world of letters." That success, however, was achieved not without several highs and lows.

When he was seven, Thirunavukkarasu was sent to Burma to join his father, who was a clerk in a Chettiar firm there. Eight years later, the teenaged schoolboy was part of that 1942 exodus from Burma, making the long trek to India through jungle and storm ahead of the Japanese advance. When he failed his SSLC in 1946, he set off for Madras and there joined Tamil Pannai Publications, near Panagal Park. In the next two years, he moved from his first job to the journal Thiagi and then to Navayuga Publications when each of them faced difficulties. Eventually, he arrived at Vai. Govindan's Sakthi Publications, then located where the Music Academy now is, a place where the leading Tamil writers of the day gathered. Here he caught up with a school friend from Devakottai, Lena Ramanathan who was on the editorial staff and who was to become renowned in the world of Tamil letters as Tamilvanan. The two decided to start a publishing house of their own — and with each putting in Rs. 300 after collection drives, they started Jil Jil (Cool Cool) Publications. Their first books were printed at Devi Printers in Chintadripet, where the proprietor, S.A.P. Annamalai, and his manager, P.V. Parthasarathy, had just started a magazine, Kumudham.

When the Kumudham duo offered Tamilvanan the editorship of Kalkandu in 1949 — the journal that was to make him famous — not only did Jil Jil Publications fold, but relations between the two friends became strained. Thirunavukkarasu, for his part, started a lending library, then Jil Jil, a children's magazine. It was Kalki who persuaded him to start a printing press for the magazine. Marriage came first, then a place to stay — 118 Broadway — and eventually Jil Jil Publications' printing press, set up in a part of their house, in another part of which was The Progressive Estates, a Dravida Kazhagam leaning publishing house regularly visited by Annadurai and Karunanidhi.

At Jil Jil, Thirunavukkarasu operated the printing machine and his wife did the binding. But despite the low costs this enabled, their publications were slow to sell — and a financial crunch was the result. The press was closed and Madras' first `Chettinad Hotel' started. This too wasn't exactly a success. Fortunately, there was a buyer for the closed printing unit and Thirunavukkarasu became marginally solvent again. And back he went to publishing.

With detective fiction popular at the time, Thirunavukkarasu in 1955 bought for Rs. 250 the rights for Venn Pura from its author R.S. Mani. To publish it he started a publishing house he named `Vanathi', the name of a character in Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan. It is a name that also influenced his choice of a logo, an elephant holding aloft the Gangai Kalasam. There has been no looking back after that.

From detective fiction, Vanathi has gone on to publish popular fiction, historical novels, children's literature, spiritual and cultural titles, science, biographies and the classics. Its authors range from the Kanchi Paramacharya and Variar Swamigal to Rajaji and Kalki to Kannadasan and Chandiliyan.

Indeed, Vanathi and its founder Vanathi Thirunavukkarasu are models of how to make publishing in Tamil a success.


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